Sunday, November 3, 2019

Isaiah 9:1-7 The Child with the Four Names

Previously we had seen that the Southern Kingdom under king Ahaz (735-715 BC) of Judah in Jerusalem was being threatened by an alliance of the northern 10 tribes (Israel, under king Pekah - Samaria) and Syria (under king Rezin of Damascus). Ahaz was afraid and instead of trusting in God, as urged by Isaiah, he was beginning to make plans to enlist the help of the Assyrians. He had in fact already given the temple treasury to them in order to buy their support (2 Kings 16:8). It is a sad fact that Ahaz would not listen to the prophet Isaiah sent from God to tell Ahaz that he needed not fear the coming invasion. 
There are none as deaf as those that will not hear.

We also saw that God was prepared to give a sign to Ahaz: “A virgin (or young woman) would bear a child and call his name Immanuel.” The prophecy is veiled in historical obscurity, but it might have been a reference to the birth of Ahaz’s own son, Hezekiah (715-686 BC), who unlike his father was a good king. He would see the fulfilment of all these prophecies. He saw the destruction of the Assyrians (see Isaiah 37 ;  2 Kings 19). Ahaz needed to know that the land promised on oath to Abraham was Immanuel’s land (8:8-10). There was no need to fear, even though the flood of enemies would “reach even to the neck” (Isa. 8:8 - see Psalm 69:1) – seemingly to overwhelm them- but only seemingly. 

It is a common human trait to struggle with the fear of the power of man more than the power of God. We are easily intimidated by the conspiracies of men (8:12). Before we run to God we run to mediums and fortune tellers who chirp and mutter (8:19). 

Very few men of the OT had received greater assurance and promises of help in times of severe crisis than did king Ahaz, and yet he wavered – and the nation presumably with him, for as the leadership goes so the nation goes. The challenge then is that when God promises us deliverance, even in the face of the greatest trial (when the waters come up to our neck) then we must believe God and not the ‘waters’.John Calvin says, "the slightest calamities will overwhelm us if we are deprived of God’s favour; but if we rely on the Word of God, we can come out of the heaviest calamities uninjured.“ [1] A man can drown in a small stream, and yet be saved in the open ocean if he can hold on to a plank and get himself to the shore.

Let us remember what is behind this whole story. The future of David’s messianic line was threatened at this point. Ahaz, one of David’s descendants, ‘did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God, as his father David had done, but walked in the ways of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel’ (2 Kings 16:1-3). As a result of spiritual apostasy, David’s territory, Jerusalem the city of David, where the temple stood was about to fall into the hands of pagans. But, did God not say that He would keep the house of David? Surely God would not break His covenant with David? That’s right! The people born under the privileges of the covenant may refuse to believe, but there will always be a remnant that will believe. The name of one of Isaiah’s son’s, Shear Jeshub, means ‘a remnant shall return’. Isaiah’s children were ‘signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts’ (8:18

Right now, in a dark and fearful moment of history, God is there, promising them His presence; promising them a sign. There would be light on this dark horizon! From the history books we know that Jerusalem was never taken by these evil allies. God truly delivered Jerusalem. And we shall see that this prophecy is so much greater than this historical happening. However, we are constantly made aware in these OT accounts that these things are signs of a greater and ultimate fulfillment. The ultimate light would be the Lord Jesus. He is the light of the world (Jn 1:9; 8:12). 

Isaiah 9:1-2   A Great Light 

Matthew 4:12-16 connects with Isaiah 9: 1-2: Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Now for some geographical perspective: The territories of Zebulun and Naphtali were once part of the northern kingdom. This was the area that was soon invaded by the Assyrians in 722Bc , who scattered them and mixed them with other nations. This produced the nation of the Samaritans, who were a mixed race. This area (Galilee of the nations - 9:1) was the area in which the Lord Jesus would do most of His public ministry. Do you see the significance of this? Not only does Isaiah speak hope to the SK; he also speaks hope to the NK. Yes, Assyria caused havoc in that region, but the Lord Jesus would someday come here and He would do some of His greatest miracles in this region. Here He raised the dead son of a woman in Nain (Lk. 7:11) and a little girl (Matt. 9 :18ff). Here He would do the miraculous feeding of the 4000 & 5000 beside the Sea of Galilee. The light of the Messiah’s ministry would shine in that dark region. 

Isaiah 9 follows chapter 8 which leaves us with a note of gloom and doom in verses 21-22: “They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.” 

By contrast Isaiah 9:1 begins with a “but”[2]. There is great darkness and fear in that region in Isaiah’s time. 700 years later there is still great darkness and fear among the people in the days of Jesus’ ministry, as the Romans ruthlessly ruled Immanuel’s land. There is great darkness and fear in our own day as we speak. One senses that even the church (which is Immanuel’s people) acts much like Ahaz. We trust in human wisdom and solutions. Many church members are more committed to pragmatic solutions than to the life of faith and prayer and trust in the Word of God. Our congregations are filled with people that are religious but fearful and possessed with little faith. 

What wonderful light and hope enters as we now come to Chapter 9. See the contrast! The joy in 9:3 is the opposite of the gloom in 8:21,22. The Lord reveals that the nation would be enlarged! This is so different to 6:13, where the nation is being cut down to a tenth and then cut down even more so that only a stump would be left! The enlarged nation[3] is the result of Immanuel’s ministry. Matthew notes that Isaiah 9 was fulfilled in Jesus’ ministry! You may well ask, was Israel really enlarged as a result of Jesus coming? Jesus was crucified in about 30 AD, with no one apparently following Him any longer. How can we say that the nation has been enlarged by the ministry of Christ, when this sort of thing happened ? It was even prophesied that He would be the cause of many falling in Israel (Luke 2:34). It was more likely that the nation would shrink. Yet, if you think carefully, Immanuel’s land was greatly multiplied or enlarged under Christ’s ministry. Many gentiles believed (this is implied in Isa 9:2) . They were added to the kingdom as ingrafted branches (Rom. 11:17). We see how the church after Pentecost has been forcefully advancing and multiplying in the whole world. The greater works that His disciples would do, which Jesus speaks about in John 14:12 is the multiplication of the territory: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”

Having just remembered the anniversary of the 16th century Reformation, the phrase “post tenebras lux” (after darkness, light), comes back to mind. The rediscovery of biblical truth, after a time of spiritual darkness, was followed by the greatest missionary expansion of the church, this world has ever seen. Incidentally, the Jewish feast of Hanukkah[4] (also called the feast of lights) also occurs around this time. This is the Christian season of light. The birth of the Lord Jesus Christ is associated with festive lights. The light that God gives us in the revelation of His Son and through His Word is a significant gift to us. It all comes together in this text.

Isaiah 9:3-5     A Great Battle 

The coming deliverance is pictured in these verses in clear images of military victory. The enemy would be totally smashed by the Messiah. The reference to the day of Midian (9:4) is a reference to Gideon’s victories in Judges 6, which included the provinces of Naphtali and Zebulun in the region of Galilee. Gideon is a picture of the Messiah who will deliver His chosen remnant. Immanuel, however will do this without man made weapons. He showed this by His superior teaching over all religious teachers, His superior power over all sickness and even death, and over all demonic forces. On the cross He crushed Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15). Paul could thus truly write, “The Father has qualified you to share in the kingdom of light, for he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness…” (Col. 1:12,13)

9:6,7:     A Great Saviour - The Child with the Four Names 

Immanuel now comes fully into His own in these verses. Look at these names that are attributed to Him. No one reading this can fail to come to the conclusion that Immanuel must be a divine being! And so Ahaz and we may take courage to know that our future is in God’s hands! The future is bright and filled with light! And it begins with the birth of a child, a son- one born to govern in a new and unique way. 

Look at His titles. 

· Wonderful Counselor: Jesus Christ is the prophet who speaks to us the final and authoritative counsel of God (Hebr. 1:1-3). His divine wisdom and counsel is utterly trustworthy. God the Father says, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him [Matt.17:5,Mk. 9:7,Lk. 9:35] 

· Mighty God (El –gibbor) [5]: Jesus is in His very nature God. He is co- equal, co-existent, co-eternal with the Father. 

· Everlasting Father: He is not replacing the Father here. He must be seen as the second Adam, the human replacement of our first father Adam, who sinned and thereby caused all his descendants to inherit a sin nature. In Christ we receive an everlasting salvation and in that sense He has ‘fathered’ us into a new life. In that sense Jesus refers to His family as His children in Hebr. 2:13,14, which is a quote from Isa 8:18. 

· Prince of Peace:  The coming of the Messiah(Christ) is associated with the bringing of peace. He guides our feet into the way of peace (Lk. 1:79). As our High priest He makes peace for us with God (Rom. 5:1). He is our peace (Eph. 2:14). 

These four names show us that God’s solution to our darkness is in Christ - our Immanuel. He ALONE is supremely qualified to counsel, lead, care and provide an eternally peaceful environment (heaven) for us. Ahaz needed to know that he could only trust in God alone. We need to know this. Peace and stability will never be established by human alliances. They never work. Only God can maintain this world. Only He can maintain the church. Our challenge is to rest less in our own schemes and plans and walk according to the rules of Immanuel’s land. 
I am so impressed by the constant reference in this prophecy to this phrase, “The Lord spoke thus to me …” (e.g. 8:11). Like Isaiah we must be in constant and prayerful communion with God. He alone  will deliver us from  the fear of our enemies.  To that end will you bow your head with me and pray a prayer of commitment and renewal in the hope and expectation that the LORD our God will grant us the ability to live by faith. 

[1] Isaiah : Calvin, Crossway Commentaries , p. 89 
[2] This reminds us of the great ‘but’ of Rom 3:21 
[3] The enlarging of the nation reappears again in 54:1-3 
[4] Ḥanukah is a Jewish festival commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. It is also known as the Festival of Lights (Hebrew: חַג הַאוּרִים, ḥag ha'urim). Hanukkah occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar. 
[5] This title is later used of the Lord in 10:21

Monday, October 28, 2019

ISAIAH 8 "Fear God ! Wait for the LORD!"

We are dealing here with a profound and remarkable portion of Scripture.  Isaiah 7-12 has sometimes been called the “Immanuel Book”.  At the heart of these chapters is a mysterious child, called Immanuel (7:14; 8:8,10), a great light (9:2), a  fruitful branch  (11:1-5). He is given as a sign in a political crisis and He finally emerges as the ruler of the whole earth. He is the Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace (9:6-7). In fact, Isaiah sees with eyes, far beyond the current state of affairs. He sees with prophetic eyes. He sees a vision so great, that He does not even comprehend it. Isaiah is a man in the hands of a sovereign, great, almighty and awesome God, who acts in the midst of earth’s complex human affairs, politics and history.  It is He that directs even the hearts of sinful kings   for His own glorious ends (Prov. 21:1).  He is the God who rules today. He has the future of His church firmly in His hands, even though the tide of opinion is currently swinging strongly against biblical and true Christianity.  Today, as we remember the Reformation of 1517,  we are called to fear God and to wait on Him. Today, we are called to embrace this text: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him shall you honour as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” (8:11-13).
We have already spent considerable time looking carefully at the historical situation from Isaiah's call in Chapter  6 (742 BC). The current conflict involves four nations:
·        Assyria, under Tiglath-pileser, is beginning to expand its empire into the eastern Mediterranean. It is the emerging superpower of this era.
·        Syria or Aram borders the northern kingdom of Israel. Aram is made up of a number of related Aramean tribes that are vassals of the Kingdom of Damascus, ruled by Rezin.
·        Israel (the northern kingdom – capital city, Samaria) separated from Judah after the death of Solomon in 931 BC. Its current king is Pekah, the son of Remaliah, one of a series of  18 bad kings. This nation is going to be brought  to an  end in 722BC at the hand of the Assyrians.
·        Judah (the southern kingdom- capital city, Jerusalem) is ruled by the current king Ahaz, son of Jotham. He is not a godly king.[1] Isaiah is a prophet in Judah.
Our attention was drawn to Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple and his subsequent call to the prophetic ministry (Isaiah 6). We have seen that Isaiah is presently commissioned to prophesy to a hard-hearted, n0n-hearing, non-understanding, spiritually dull people (Isa. 6:9-10).  The king of Judah, Ahaz is a sad illustration of this fact.  In Isaiah 7, the prophet Isaiah was to tell Ahaz that he needed not fear the threatening alliance of Israel (NK) and Syria against Judah. He needed only to put his trust in the LORD, the covenant God of Israel.  But Ahaz would hear none of this. He had no faith in God and for this reason he  wanted a political alliance with Assyria, the regional superpower at that time. Isaiah challenges him and says, “… if you don’t believe me then ask the Lord for a sign!” (7:11). Ahaz then says in an act of false humility, “I will not put the LORD to the test” (7:12), upon which Isaiah cries out with exasperation, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin[2] shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.(7:14).   God   promises  Ahaz deliverance by means of a child  which is called here,  Immanuel’. He  will be a deliverer  in that immediate context. Some think that this  child sign  will be his own  son Hezekiah (715- 686BC),  who will be a much better king than his father. He will in fact  see  hostile Israel ( Samaria), Syria (Damascus)   and even  mighty Assyria  defeated in his day. Whatever the case may be from a NT  perspective, we know that far  beyond this, Immanuel  will be identified  with  the  Lord Jesus Christ [Matt.1:21-23]. Truly the Bible has an amazing depth and width  and foresight.   But right now, right here the Lord makes Ahaz an incredible offer of deliverance from the very real threat knocking a Jerusalem’s doors.   

Exposition of  Isaiah  Chapter 8
We find here three  sections, each  preceded by the Lord  speaking to Isaiah in 8:1, 8:5 and 8:11

1.       8:1-4  Another Sign – Maher Shalal Hash Baz
God speaks  to Isaiah, commanding  him   to  make  a banner and writing upon it for all to see, “Maher Shalal Hash Baz“, literally meaning, “speed-spoil-haste–booty“. This is a typical prophetic action. Israel’s prophets, speaking on behalf of God, by dramatic actions provoked their public to ask questions.  The issue at hand relates to the threatened invasion of the SK, which God promised, would not happen. The LORD also provided for him  two reliable witness, Uriah the priest and Zechariah[3]   to testify that  the message  from Isaiah, written boldly upon a banner, was indeed true.
But the prophetic message is not yet complete. It had to become flesh in the form of a son  that would be born to Isaiah’s wife[4]. When that son is eventually born  (at least 9 months later)  this boy is called   “Maher Shalal Hash Baz“. He  is the LORD’s  sign (see 8:18). 
In 8:4  we are informed that before  this boy  would be able to talk, the Assyrians would successfully attack the enemies of Judah, namely   the Syrians (Aram)  and Israel, and utterly defeat them and  carry off the spoil or booty.  Please note – God was going to do this! Ahaz did not need the help   of the  Assyrians.  

2.       8:5-10:  God speaks again through Isaiah – The Assyrian army will defeat the alliance
This people“ refers to the northern kingdom of Israel.  Approximately 200 years earlier these 10 northern tribes had rejected the house of David as king, even though it was God’s ordained monarchy.  They had refused the gentle waters of Shiloah- the waters which flow from the Gihon spring into Jerusalem.  At Gihon  Solomon,the son of David was anointed and declared to be king (1 Kings 1:32-35). It was here that Isaiah first found king Ahaz (7:3). Ahaz was worried that the enemy would cut off the water supply from Jerusalem.  It was ‘this people the NK (Israel) which had  alienated themselves from that life giving water  long time ago. They had become so removed from their southern brothers that they were ever hostile to them. We see that at this point they are ready to conquer and destroy them in alliance with the Syrians with their headquarters in Damascus.  And now God says here that they (Israel and Syria) would endure the “Assyrian flood“(8:7,8). It would also sweep into Judah, BUT it would not wipe out Judah!  It would come “up to the neck” (8:8), but no further.  Assyria never managed to conquer Jerusalem.
In Hezekiah’s day  (following the rein of Ahaz), they tried  and  we read in  2 Kings 19:35 that the Lord struck down 185 000 Assyrians and that was basically the end of Assyria. According to verses 8-10 they were broken and shattered,… and why?
This was Immanuel’s land! Verse 10 could also be paraphrased,“Go ahead, you Assyrians  and whoever else , make your crazy plans;  they will  fail for God is with us! 

This causes us to reflect upon a very comforting doctrine.  Every opposition against Immanuel’s land must fail.  Assyria  had  the  military capacity to swallow  Judah, but it was still Immanuel’s land ! Now we know that this truth applies to the NT church.  She is Immanuel’s land. The Lord Jesus Christ, her Living Head, our Immanuel is with us.   No weapon formed against her will stand (Isa 54:17).  Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church (Matt 16:18). He is the same LORD who cared for Israel and supplied her needs in the desert (1 Cor. 10:4).  He is the same Lord that keeps His people today. They are not limited to a geographical  area, for the earth is  the Lord’s (Ps 24:1). The earth belongs to the meek in Christ! (Matt 5:5 cf. Ps.37:11). 

3.       8: 11 – 22:  Do not fear- trust the LORD!
This section has four great warnings  and  applications.  This will cure your fear of man.

a. 8:11-13:  11 For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
In times of attack God’s people must guard their our hearts and minds by not giving into conspiracy theories  and  fear mongering. Their eyes must remain firmly on God. Godly people  must fear the LORD alone. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). It is very tempting  to think like the world. But Romans 12:1&2  encourages us not to be conformed  to this world , but to be transformed by  the renewal of our minds …”.

b. 8:14,15: 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”
God is either for you or against you. There is no middle-ground.  God is either a sanctuary or a stone of offense/ stumbling[5]  for all people. The sanctuary is the holy place where God dwells and  where He is approached by sacrifice for acceptance. In the NT Christ has become our sanctuary.  But He is also a stumbling stone  for  those who will not take Him seriously.  This  was said of  the Lord  Jesus by  the old prophet Simeon: “He is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel (Luke 2:34). Peter  quotes  Isa.8:14  and identifies  Christ as the stumbling stone.  To those who believe in Him and obey Him, He will be a sanctuary.  Those that ignore Him  or  oppose Him will stumble (1 Peter 2:8).  No one could get away from the God of the OT. No one  can get away from Christ.
c. 8:16-20: Hold on to the Word of God: 16 Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching  among my disciples. 17 I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. 18 Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. 19 And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the teaching (law) and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.
In times of attack hold on to God’s word! “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).  What God had  said through Isaiah was God’s word.   Just because people could not see nor  hear (6:9,10), just because God’s face was hidden, did not make His word to them  less valid.  Isaiah believed this word, his family, and his disciples believed this Word,   and in time  it would prove to be a true word. The prophets  rarely ever saw  the fulfillment of their prophecies  (1 Peter 1:10-12) , but they are known to be true prophets because what they said  came true ! Isaiah’s family were  signs and symbols (8:18)  that communicated truth. One son’s name (Shear-Jashub - 7:3) promised that there would always  be a remnant;  another son’s name  Maher-Shalal Hash Baz was a prediction that swift destruction would come on Judah’s enemies. In fact this  happened while  this boy  was still a baby who could not yet talk. Isaiah’s  own name means  the Lord saves”, a gospel message in  itself!  Immanuel would appear as a sign  now and later, as the Messiah  in the flesh, according  to the line of David centuries after Isaiah spoke!

Those who reject God’s word  always seek alternative counsel  and wisdom.  They turn to mediums  and necromancers who chirp and mutter (8:19). They prefer an obscure   word from the dead over the clear Word of the Living God – the law and the testimony (8:20). By doing this they broke God’s law (Deut. 18:9-13). He was their God (see vv.19 & 21), but they were rejecting Him. In doing so they lost their heritage, blessing, and life.

d.  8: 21& 22: A Reflection upon the sad result of unbelief: 21 They will pass through the land,  greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against  their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. 22 And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.
The result of unbelief was that they cursed both their king and their God. Unbelief brings about intense dissatisfaction. It  would bring distress, darkness, and fearful gloom as we shall see in the opening verses of chapter 9. Godlessness brings chaos. Let us learn from this. If we  reject  God’s revelation and direction in favor of some other “light”, we will not have light at all but darkness and all the despairing gloom that comes with it. 
Next  time we are going to take a close look at Isaiah 9,   in which we see Immanuel  dispelling the gloom  of people  that have been walking in darkness. 
Thank God for the Gospel of  our Immanuel!

[1] The SK will have 11 bad and 8 good kings
[2] Hebrew – almah –can also mean ‘ young woman’
[3] See  2 Ki. 16:10-16;18:2
[4] The title ‘ prophetess ‘ was probably given to Isaiah’s wife here because she was literally the bearer  of the  Lord’s Word, incarnate in her son  ( Motyer , p.90)
[5] Gr. ‘skandalon’

Genesis 32:29-30 “Reaching The Place of Blessing”

OUTLINE: Genesis 32:22-32

1.      32:22-24   Wrestling with God
2.      32:25  The  Touch of God that Hurts  and Heals
3.      32: 26-28    Winning by Losing
4.      32:29-30    Reaching the Place of Blessing

29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”

Last time our subject from 32:26-28 was ‘winning by losing’. The commentator Derek Kidner says, that “when God touched Jacob’s hip socket, it was defeat and victory all wrapped up in one." [1]   We saw Paul’s principle of strength in weakness applied here “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me… for when I am weak, then I am strong” [2 Cor.12:9-10]. This is biblical logic. Biblical logic doesn’t come easy, since by our sinful default we are not trained to think like this, and our God has amazing and unexpected ways to get our attention in order to conform us more to the likeness and thinking  of His Son.  

From Jacob’s story we learn that God’s ways with us are not always apparent at once. We tend to think that our life is simply a series of cause and effect - ‘life happens’. However,  in truth, nothing happens for the Christian without  God from start to finish, and if we were to ask the apostle Paul about this, he would say, “And we know that for those who love God ALL THINGS work together for good, for those called according to His purpose…”  (Rom. 8:28). Think of Jacob’s story. God met him at the beginning, when  he as the younger was chosen  above the older Esau to  inherit the covenantal promises  (Gen. 25:23). God met him at Bethel (Gen.28:10ff) – Jacob’s first real encounter with God (conversion experience?).  God met him here at  Peniel in terms of a further sanctification experience, and if you go to the  closing  chapters of Genesis 48-50 you will see that God was  with Jacob  until  the very end, still directing  his footsteps.  Life doesn’t just happen for Jacob. His footsteps are directed. (Psalm 37:25 - The steps of a man  are established by the LORD). 

It is such a fact that caused a  hymnwriter like  Philip Doddridge  (1702-1751)  to write,
O God of Jacob, by whose hand, 
Thy people  still are fed
Who  through this weary pilgrimage, 
Hast all our fathers led.

What a blessing to know  that we  are in the hands of the God Almighty, and not in the hands of fate, or the stars or the devil! Thank God that this  story ends  in blessing  at Peniel!

Arriving at Peniel the place of blessing -  through many  dangers, toils and snares

Remember where Jacob came from. His name means ‘deceiver’. This is the nature that we have all inherited in Adam. We are all naturally plotters and schemers, people that love to manage and organize their own lives. However God, in His covenantal faithfulness and love, does not leave His covenant children in Adam’s fallen ways. He gives them new birth. He sanctifies them step by step - most often in small ordinary  ways (using life’s sandpaper), and sometimes he sanctifies us  through crisis experiences, which we might  experience as wrestling. When  that happens  all He needs is a slight touch and  all our  strong wrestling is  over in  the twinkling of an eye. Instantaneously we become aware of our weakness and our utter helplessness.  At this stage  we find ourselves in the position of  blessed helplessness.  At such a moment  the true Christian  learns to cling to Him in  their  weakness, and will cry out “I will not  let you go unless you   bless me”. 

This biographical sketch of Jacob describes the experience of every child of God. Our conversion experience (Bethel) changes our destiny and direction instantaneously, but our  sinful nature – the flesh needs to be subdued  daily and progressively. For this we need experiences like Peniel.    The wonderful truth is that God  is committed to   make His covenant children  fit  for their ultimate blessing - their  promised land– heaven.

Consider what has been accomplished  in Jacob  since the wrestling had ended

1.         He has been broken (32:25)  His self -reliance has been given an appropriate  knock!  He now knows  that He needs God’s help and blessing for the future – particularly as he must now  face Esau on his territory . That is why Jacob says, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."

2.   He has been renamed (32:28)  When God says to Jacob, "What is your name?" (32:27), and Jacob  replies,  "Jacob”, God  immediately  renames  him,  "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed." (32:28) Significantly,  the Lord says to the Churches in the book of  the Revelation,  "To him who overcomes I will give a new name" (Rev. 2:17).  In this regard you will remember that God also renamed  Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of a multitude). God changed “Sarai” (my princess) to “Sarah,” (mother of nations). In the New Testament, Jesus changed Simon’s name,  (God has heard)  to Peter (rock) when He first called him as a disciple. The reason  why God did that  on occasion because their new name would suit better when the fulfilment of God’s promises were realized in  them.    And so, God renames Jacob. He takes away that name which was actually an indictment -  deceiver, and  He gives Him a new name,  Israel -  (He strives with God). This name change indicates a dramatic change.

3.         He has been blessed (32:29).  He breaks him, He renames him, and then He blesses him. Jacob responds to this by saying “tell me who you are”.  But God  does not have to tell him. Jacob knows!   (see 32:30).  He has seen God  face to face. And He has been blessed.


There are times in our Christian lives when we experience a giant step forward in our growth in grace.  It feels almost like conversion again.  When last did you have such an experience? Have you ever had such an experience? 
I have a sense of expectancy that God may be doing that very thing in  a good number  of you at this time. There  appear  so  many of  our people  wrestling with God – but perhaps  they have not yet understood  that fact. Like Jacob you may think that Esau (or whatever obstacle there is  in your mind)   is your main  problem and obstacle to your perceived happiness.  You can see nothing  and fear nothing but Esau.  But, it is not Esau. It is you, who needs to change.   
Do not fear the change. If you are a Christian, your  God is in control – and that to bless, even if the way  to that  blessing is  via  a spiritual desert  or a  trial.  When God  revealshimself in this  trial, Jacob forgets all about Esau in a moment. In a moment of stunning spiritual clarity Jacob  saw himself in the hands of  God and not of Esau. And so he clung to the Lord and refused to let Him go  and he  pleaded for the blessing of the Lord. 

I trust  that  this little series of sermons  on the life of Jacob’s struggles  helps you as a Christian- a child of the covenant -   to open  your eyes  to the fact that you are not  wrestling against man or circumstances – you  are primarily  wrestling with God.  And you need to be reminded that you are in a wrestling match  to win and to overcome. But you must remember the biblical logic here. You  win by losing! And once you have lost  you are ready to be blessed. God  is  not in this to destroy you.  He is in this to bless you.

We also  need to learn to be thankful to  God that we do not have to wrestle God in the fullness of His glory. If we did, we  would not be able  to live. The Bible says  that no one can see God and live (Ex. 33:20).  It is just as well that Jacob wrestled with the Lord at night. By God’s grace Jacob had seen God  in the form of a man, and  only in the dark.  Thank God that He does not reveal Himself to you in all His glory. You would not be able to live. Those in the Scriptures who had seen God’s  greater glimpses of  God’s glory  always  fell  down  as if dead. That is what happened to many OT characters. It happened to  Paul in  Acts 9 when he had met the  risen, ascended and glorified   Lord Jesus on the Damascus road. John on the island of Patmos saw the Lord Jesus on the Lord’s day and says, “ when I saw  Him, I fell at His feet as though dead.” (Rev.  1:17).  The blessing  of God, even though it may be  a very intimidating experience   is  nevertheless meant to be a blessing.

And, dear friends, we  need to learn from the Scripture to become bolder with God.  Some may think that Jacob is very arrogant to demand a blessing from God. But we must learn   that this  is the faith that God loves and approves of. This  the faith He blesses, because this is a faith that honours God since it clings to Him, and because it  makes Him  be what He is meant to be  in your life. He is your heavenly Father  who loves you  and who  blesses you!

I wonder how many there are in this congregation who want to say with Jacob, "I will not let you go until you bless me!” I wonder  whether there is not someone here who, like Jacob, finds themselves  so surprised by the course life has taken  for them, and who have finally understood that their  struggle has  been  with God (the fear of man being the obstacle). Seeing the face of God  has changed all that.
I wonder whether there is someone here  who stands very much in need of God's blessing- such as  of forgiveness of sin, of hope restored, of peace restored, of fears overcome, of love  that replaces  hatred – all  that fades  when you look into the face of God.

You say to God, like Jacob, "I will not let you go unless you bless me!” The Scripture strongly encourages  us to seek the Lord. The Bible   teaches that those who come to God and refuse to take no for an answer for spiritual blessing will be heard. Seek His face (Psalm 27:8) !

[1] Derek Kidner , Genesis , IVP series, p.169